The power of massage therapy

Massage TherapistMassage therapy has been around for hundreds of years. It’s a healing technique that helps people relax, treats injuries to muscles and tissue, and can calm and soothe anxious bodies. Massage therapists are trained to manipulate the soft tissue to improve circulation, relieve pain, rehabilitate injuries, relieve stress, increase relaxation and overall give their patients a sense of wellbeing.1

The market for massage therapists is growing

Individuals interested in a career in massage therapy are headed for a field that is predicted to grow even more between 2012 and 2022. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for massage therapists will grow 23 percent in that 10 year span, which is a much faster rate of growth than the average for all other occupations.1

Massage therapy as a method of treatment is gaining support from doctors and hospitals. More states are implementing licensing requirements and upholding standards for therapists. These actions help to integrate the practice even further into the medical community. More health care providers are coming to realize the benefits of massage, and so demand for these services is likely to increase as massage becomes part of treatment plans.1

The need for for massage therapy is not limited to clinic or hospital environments, however. Groups like sports teams often hire massage therapists to help treat players for pain and to rehabilitate them after injury. With groups like these increasing their demand for professionals in this field, more growth for the occupation overall is expected.1

Massage therapy may reduce stress in premature babies

Massage isn’t just for sport players and relaxation, however. Trained therapists can have a real impact on the development and health of preterm infants. These little ones are born in Newborn Intensive Care Units (NICUs) and are under stress from the moment they come into the world.2

Preterm infants are under-developed, meaning they are born with an immature autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is responsible for managing and controlling their stress response and recovery. So many factors cause stress in the lives of these infants, including the endless medical tests and procedures, separation from their mothers, and mechanical ventilation machines that help them breathe.2

In a healthy body, the ANS reacts to stressful situations so we can deal with it appropriately. In premature infants, the ANS over reacts and fails to process stressors properly. In cases like these, intervention is needed to enhance the ANS function. For the first time, researchers from the University of Louisville School of Nursing have found that massage therapy helps premature babies calm down and reduce their stress level by promoting ANS development.2 According to the study, published in the journal Early Human Development in 2013, babies were given massage therapy that consisted of moderate pressure and stroking of the soft tissues followed by flexing and extending the joints of both arms and legs. The massage caused the heart rate variability (HRV) to increase in male infants. This was not applicable to female preterm infants, however.

Heart rate variability is a measure of ANS function and development. Infants who are born at the correct gestational age (known as term infants) show an increased HRV, whereas preterm infants have a decreased HRV along with a problem responding to stressors appropriately. Researchers in this study noticed that male preterm infants that received massage therapy showed an increased HRV that was similar to that of the term infants, which helps support the babies’ ability to respond to various stressors correctly.2

The study concluded that HRV increased weekly in the male preemies that received massage therapy, but there was no increase in male infants that did not get massaged. This study suggests that massage therapy enhanced the development of ANS in male preemies, and so improved the infants’ response to stressful events. The researchers were interested to find that massage therapy did not work the same way for female infants, but they attributed that to a difference in hormones.2

Researchers indicated that this phenomenon needs more investigation, but the benefits of massage for premature infants were clear. The researchers did want to better understand how massage therapy affects ANS development in preterm infants, so a future study is needed that will look at a larger sample of premature babies.2

Massage can improve patients’ lives

Massage therapy is a field that appeals to health care professionals who want to use touch to make patients feel relaxed and comfortable. Being a massage therapist requires good communication skills, patience, empathy, and a devotion to understanding your patients’ needs on an individual basis.

Massage therapists work with their patients to develop treatment plans to manage pain and stress. They maintain records of prognosis, treatment, response and progress, and instruct their patients in techniques to recover from or avoid injury. Patients can find advice on posture improvement, stretching and rehabilitative exercise from a licensed massage therapist.

1 “Massage therapists,” Bureau of Labor Statistics.gov, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/massage-therapists.htm#tab-2

2 Matilda, Benita, “Massage Therapy Reduces Stress in Preterm Infants,” Science World Report.com, May 15, 2013, http://www.scienceworldreport.com/articles/6856/20130515/massage-therapy-reduces-stress-preterm-infants.htm